The world’s first chairlifts were built in the late 1930s at Sun Valley, Idaho. Today the modern resort is a mecca for enthusiasts of skiing history.
The world’s first chairlift — a crude but effective one-seater — was invented in the summer of 1936 by James Curran, a mechanical engineer with the Union Pacific Railroad. The railroad, under the leadership of its skiing chairman, Averell Harriman, developed Sun Valley as a destination resort that could attract movie stars and socialites.
The first two examples of Curran’s invention were installed on Proctor and Dollar mountains and proved to be very successful. A third was installed in for the 1938-1939 season on Ruud Mountain, which was adjacent to Proctor.
By the early 1950s, the first two examples of Curran’s genius were removed as Sun Valley upgraded its facilities and shifted its main focus to Bald Mountain, a couple of miles away. The Ruud Mountain chair, long inoperative, still remains. It is located north of the current Dollar Mountain complex, next to a house at 602 Fairway Road.
Yesterday I visited and took a few photos. The lower terminal had two steel structures. Farthest downhill (and the taller of the two) supported the counterweight, while the bullwheel was mounted on the uphill unit. The view above was taken from near the spot where skiers would have loaded.
As mentioned above and in Dick Dorworth’s article, Sun Valley moved its principal operations to Bald Mountain and that 9,000-plus-foot peak is where most of today’s skiing takes place.
After visiting the Ruud Mountain chairlift yesterday morning, I drove a couple of miles south and skied Baldy. I hopped on the Challenger lift, a high-speed quad that rises about 3,200 vertical feet from the Warm Springs Lodge to the summit.
Contrast the primitive construction of the old Ruud Mountain lift with the ultra-modern lines of Challenger’s upper terminal!